Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is intended to be a day to remember the sacrifices of the men and women of the military for their country. Of course, Congress decided to make it fall on a Monday, so for some it has become nothing more than a three day weekend, I’m afraid. However, it really should be a reminder that good things in this life do not come without struggle. No pain, no gain, one might say, although that trivializes it a bit too much, IMO. It is a reminder that there really are things worth giving up one’s life for, and we should ponder those things and reflect upon the great blessings God has bestowed upon us, even though they may be through the actions of others.
It is also a time to reflect upon the horrors of war. It should be a reminder that this world is very far from perfect, and that there will be a time to come when such sacrifices will no longer be necessary.
If you feel that there is an ambivalence towards military service in the Church of God, then that is no surprise. Violence is condemned in the Bible, even as God destroyed the earth in the time of Noah because it was filled with violence (Ge 6:11). Yet, even that act points to the fact that sometimes the only way to deal with violence is through violence. There must be a discernment, then, among the members of the Church of God of what is appropriate, when and why.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the song “Onward, Christian Soldiers”. It was a song that was inspired by passages like 2 Timothy 2:3, a verse we will see again later. So, if there is a perceived ambivalence, it is in large part because the Bible both condemns violence yet also speaks about attributes of soldiers in a positive light.
Paul wrote more than once about soldiers and armament. He spoke about these things at times in very positive terms. He did not do so in order to glorify war, however. He did so because some of the attributes that make a great soldier also make a great Christian. Paul also spoke of athletes, and sometimes he even referred to both in the same passages. It is important to not forget what these attributes are, and there really is no better day than one like today for reflection upon these things.
Willingness to Give All
Perhaps nothing makes Memorial Day more appropriate than the symbolism of one who is willing to give it all for what he or she believes in. “Sacrifice” is not a bloated theological word, but it is a word that means to give up everything. When something is offered upon the altar, there is nothing left alive.
Perhaps nothing more illustrates the concept of sacrifice than the joke about the hen and the pig. Mind you, this is an illustration and not a theological statement about clean and unclean meats!
Chicken and Pig had known each other for a while. One day, they were walking down along the road, when Chicken says, “Hey, Pig! I was thinking we could open a restaurant.”
Pig answered, “That’s an interesting idea. What would we call it?”
“How about ‘Ham-n-eggs’?”
Pig thought it over for a while, and then he answered, “No, I don’t think so.”
“Oh, c’mon! Why not?”
“Well, Chicken, for you such a venture would be a mere involvement, but for me it would be a total sacrifice.”
Paul wrote about sacrifice and being a Christian.
12 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
~ Ro 12:1
A soldier must learn discipline. Discipline is essentially doing the right thing even when you don’t want to. It means doing things lawfully and in order even when tempted to take shortcuts.
Paul wrote that both soldiers and athletes must be disciplined and follow the rules.
2 And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the recruiter. 5 Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
Notice that a soldier is disciplined not only in following the rules, but the soldier also doesn’t get entangled in civilian affairs.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
~ Jas 1:27
However, an athlete may be doing it for him or herself. They are not necessarily doing what they are doing for anyone else. They may need to yield to a coach or to a referee, but on a daily basis, they may or may not choose to yield to anyone in particular. A soldier, however, must be disciplined by following proper military authority.
8 The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
9 For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
The centurion was both “under” authority and had authority over others. He understood the proper authority, and he applied his understanding to his request to Jesus.
When does a soldier know whether or not an order is lawful? When it violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the soldier is required to disobey! This is the same as when someone requires a Christian to go against the commandments, the Christian is required to disobey!
Now, what this means, though, is that most likely in such a situation, there will be a trial or at least a hearing of some sort. There are judges and people of authority to determine such matters, and that authority has been granted by the highest elements of the law of the land.
God has also granted authority for judgment within the Church. He has placed people there to ensure order.
Does this mean that military judges are perfect? Without bias? Without corruption, even? No, it does not. However, their judgments can only be annulled by an appeal.
Likewise, there will be those who claim authority in the Church, but they may be corrupt judges. There will be others who will occasionally give wrong judgments.
What else can I say, other than a soldier needs discernment? Who is given authority, when and why?
It boils down to two types of tares: 1. Those who claim that the Church has all authority and none should question it. Obviously, these tended to stay with WCG through all its changes. 2. The Pharisees who look for any fault and believe their own interpretation of Scripture is supreme, even above that of the Church. The Pharisees found fault with and killed the Messiah, and the postmodern version still find fault with others that do not measure up to their standard of self-righteousness and will probably not recognize Him at His second coming either.
This, of course, is a generalization. In particular, it should be remembered that Paul and Nicodemus were both Pharisees, but they went against the tide and were often criticized (and worse) by their own peers.
Some speak of bravery, but what of courage? What is the difference?
Bravery is usually a one-time act. However, bravery does not come overnight. It takes many smaller acts of courage to lead up to the event. Some people never get the opportunity to display their bravery, and some would rather shun the limelight. It does not mean they lack courage, however.
It takes daily courage to be a Christian. It takes courage to take up the mantel and wear it in a world that is naked. It takes small acts of courage every day in many cases just to swim against the tide. It takes courage to tell the truth when asked why you do something when it will be ridiculed and held against you.
33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
~ Mt 10:33
Paul was a man of courage who had multiple opportunities to display bravery.
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
~ Ro 1:16
I’m not suggesting anyone cast their pearls before swine (Mt 7:6), but I have heard people say sometimes things like, “Oh, you don’t want to tell them that because …” Really? Is that what Paul preached?
When do you state things clearly and when do you not? Again, read the word and discern when! A disciplined soldier will know the commands of his superiors, read the field manuals and follow them. A disciplined soldier will realize when the field manual needs amending because the UCMJ contradicts them.
And who writes the “field manuals” for a Christian? …
Above all, a soldier is loyal. The soldier is loyal to a fault to their country. The soldier is loyal to their comrades. The soldier also understands the difference.
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
A soldier who sees a comrade working for the enemy will not associate with them but work to thwart their sabotage. The military has a chain of command in which has a directive to protect the unit and the country. If the chain of command seems to be involved (or uncaring), the military has means to alert those higher in command.
A Christian is told to not to associate with a “brother” who is actively involved in outrageous sin (1Co 5:11). Rather, one who will not repent should be brought before the church authorities for judgment (1Co 6:1-6). In the end, however, we each have a direct line to God the Father to Whom our appeals can be made (Heb 10:19-20; 4:15-16).
No Perfect Analogy
This world is not perfect, and therefore there is no perfect analogy for being a Christian. However, those in the Roman Empire would have been familiar with the presence of soldiers and the discipline involved not only in their training but in their day to day lives. Even then, I am speaking of the ideal soldier. Of course, am I not also talking of the ideal Christian?